Three Cheers for Don Verrilli

On Monday, Mother Jones published an article by Nick Baumann about Don Verrilli, a White House attorney on the short-list to replace Elena Kagan as Solicitor General. I’m a big fan of Mother Jones and of Nick, and decided to expand on the theme of my quote in that story (“I love that guy”) with a short blog post.  And this isn’t meant to take anything away from the other possible candidates for Solicitor General (I know nothing about that process).

The Mother Jones article describes Don primarily as a copyright lawyer, and primarily as the lawyer who won the Grokster case.  It also provides pro- and con- responses based on that case.

I’m quoted in the story as part of this paragraph:

One might think that the non-profit groups that have fought Verrilli and his clients in court would be clamoring for the White House to reconsider. However, many of its regular opponents respect him. Gigi Sohn, the head of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that advocates for copyright reform, defended Verrilli in an email to Mother Jones. “I don’t think Don has ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ of the RIAA or Viacom, he was simply representing his clients,” Sohn wrote, adding that she thought he was “perhaps the most qualified person in the country to be the next Solicitor General.” “I love that guy,” says Marvin Ammori, a law professor who served as the lead lawyer for Free Press, a group that supports media reform and attacks big media companies like Viacom. “He’s an amazing lawyer.”

I’m also quoted this way: “Ammori acknowledged that Verrilli is personally ‘pro-copyright.'”

I agree with everything Gigi said too.  By “pro-copyright,” I didn’t mean Kool-Aid drinking pro-copyright.

Now for the cheers.

Cheer 1.  He is, as I said, an amazing lawyer.  Many of my most talented friends have worked for him and were mentored by him.  (It surprises me how often I say, “Do you know Don Verrili?” and the response is, “Yeah, I worked for him.”  This includes lawyers sympathetic to Youtube.)  And many of my mentors rave about Don’s work as a lawyer, often calling Don the best lawyer they know.

Cheer 2. Not all his cases were Grokster. Don won the Turner case, a major First Amendment case about cable TV, and I am glad he did.  He worked on many important First Amendment cases–for example, Reno v. ACLU, an important Internet law case striking down indecency provisions.  At his law firm, Don worked with the well-known First Amendment lawyer Bruce Ennis (who argued Reno) and clerked for two of the great judges of the 21st Century, Skelly Wright and First Amendment all-star William Brennan.

Beyond that, Don has dedicated himself to pro bono work throughout his career.  He has won several awards for this pro bono work.  Much of that work is death penalty and criminal justice advocacy.  Pro bono, he won a Supreme Court case regarding ineffective assistance of counsel in 2003.

Cheer 3. He strikes me as remarkably thoughtful and fair-minded.  I know him primarily from auditing a small seminar he used to teach at Georgetown Law, called Theories of the First Amendment. When I audited, I was a teaching fellow, having graduated from law school a few years earlier, and had already thought about the First Amendment (and studied it in other classes) for years by then.  I was impressed with Don’s ability to explore all sides of every issue and to encourage all of us to do the same.

I may be biased because he was incredibly responsive–he replied to emails in seconds flat with long, thoughtful replies and seemed to always have time for the students, though he was a prominent partner and argued at least one Supreme Court case that semester.

But What About Grokster?

I think Don shouldn’t be controversial just because of Grokster. After all, all nine Justices ended up agreeing that Grokster was an illegal service.

He got the votes of even Justices Stevens and Breyer–who are not sympathetic to expansive copyright claims–on a copyright claim.  That would usually mean he either didn’t have a “Kool-Aid” copyright claim or that he must be among the very best lawyers in the US.

Either way, he’d make a fine Solicitor General.

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